Wednesday 16 March 2011

Viewing Cheese Differently

THURSDAY: Lunch is haloumi with a thin smear of pesto-topped houmus, with spring onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil on a white breadcake. This is the mirror image of my houmus sandwich with a few slivers of haloumi, as with my small appetite one or the other main ingredient has to star. Having equal amounts of haloumi and houmus just sounds like too much.

Fruit is like a blazing sunset, with Spanish tangerine slices, apple slices, and a chunk of blood red pomegranate, deliciously and dangerously juicy. I say dangerous because of the likelihood of dotting my clothes with bright red dots.

FRIDAY: My sandwich today is Cheshire cheese with chopped spring onion, red pepper, fresh coriander leaf, and fresh pea shoots. It's simple and crumbily delicious. I haven't had Cheshire cheese for ages.

This current experience with Cheshire cheese differs radically from my initial encounter years ago, when I'd visited the UK only a couple of times as an Anglophiliac. Back then I became excited about any British cheese I could buy and consume in Southern California. Having grown up on cheddar cheese -- specifically Tillamook cheddar, which is still produced in the town of Tillamook on the Oregon coast -- the idea of English cheddar didn't excite me nearly as much as those British cheeses that had no American equivalents. Stilton, of course, was the first one I discovered, as it's a completely different experience from the usual blue cheese crumbled into a salad that I was used to. And then there was Cheshire cheese, which looked like cheddar and tasted slightly like cheddar but didn't melt like cheddar. As I tended to use cheddar in a mostly melted form, as in Mexican food and the classic Southern California grilled cheese sandwich, I bought Cheshire cheese only to have with crackers, along with perhaps some Stilton and some brie. The named appealed to me as well, as the only association I had with the term Cheshire was as a charming cat created by Lewis Carroll.

This current chunk of Cheshire cheese is the first I've had since those California days. And as a Yorkshire resident I now associate Cheshire with the far side of Manchester, and as the county bordering Liverpool and containing the historical but famously posh city of Chester. And with my more sophisticatedly British-cheese-experienced tongue I realise it's a wonderful sandwich cheese, with the crumbly texture and masculine dryness of Wensleydale and Lancashire cheese but with the flavour of cheddar. It's a typical Northwest cheese, as Cheshire is next to Lancashire and not far from Wensleydale. I won't bother using it in my weekend quesadillas, but I will certainly more fully explore the sandwich possibilities.

Since I moved to the UK eleven years ago I have met and become well acquainted with many more cheeses such as Derby, Huntsman, blue goat's cheese (made with a mixture of blue cheese and goat's cheese -- it's not from blue goats), smoked Stilton, and rustic Normandy Camembert, not to mention St Andre. At the French cheese stall of Sheffield's Continental Market, not to mention the cheese shop at the Chesterfield Market, there are dozens of other cheeses I have yet to try. The world is my cheeseboard...

And then there is haloumi, which I buy regularly for sandwiches. I was surprised to discover haloumi is very difficult to find on the Pacific Coast where Greek and Middle Eastern food is very popular. Everybody seems to use Kasseri instead; and when a friend and I finally found some haloumi in a cheese shop in Seattle's Pike Place Market, it was outrageously expensive.

So I will continue to gorge on Mexican food whenever I visit the States, knowing that when I return home to the UK I can treat myself to as much haloumi as I like. This is just one of the perks of being bicultural.

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